Dairying... what keeps me up at night


Dairy postcard 1937.jpg
Postcard 1937

We live on what was a dairy farm for the better part of a century. It was one of hundreds of dairy farms in Big Stone County. Now there are three. And at least one of those three would like to throw in the towel.

I watch our own dairy infrastructure degrade before my eyes. The milk parlor now fills with water in the spring. The roof of the milk house needs repair. It's been 15 years since cows were milked here. One night over dinner as I talked about how this could be a dairy farm again, my usually calm husband raised his voice and pounded his fist on the table and said "I will not start milking again!" Days later one of the kids said to me "Dad really doesn't want to milk, does he?!" He was a dairyman into his late 20's and then worked in the U's dairy barns. Guess he thinks that's enough.

Mike was one of many thousands of Big Stone County kids raised milking cows. He learned how to look for good genetics (and built his own fine quality herd), how to raise calves, care for large animals, haul manure, feed and water cattle, to say nothing of milking. Right now I know of only one teenage boy in the county who is receiving this hands on education.

A couple weeks ago I was asked to talk to an environmental communications class at the U on how agriculture is included in environmental discussions and decision making. I asked the room of about 40 people:
How many of you were raised on farms? (answer 2)
How many of your parents were raised on farms? (answer 10)
How many of your grandparents were raised on farms? (answer 30)

Think about this societal change we've experienced in just 3 generations. What keeps me awake is that we are becoming so far removed from so many skills so fast. I just can't help thinking that we lose these widespread skills at our own peril. So we get down to having a few dozen people in the State who could run a dairy farm. Then what?

I asked that same class:
How many of you aspire to be farmers? (answer 1) One proud young woman shot her arm enthusiastically into the air. Here's hoping- eh?



What you talk about here has also happened in so many other corners of our lives.The ability to simply take care of ourselves, food, clothing,a roof over our heads. Keeping our mental balance and entertaining ourselves.
Practically every thing we do is done in some form by someone else first, then it's handed down to us. When someone else does these things for us and we pay them, we obviously loose our ability to teach the next generation. No Mike I'm not saying you'r slighting your kids by not milking! But you know the knowledge is lost.
Mills Fleet Farm has a real assortment of books now that show and tell about how to raise chicken,s- cattle- hogs-ect. Its quite a display and it tells me that people are interested in this stuff. The canning and food freezing equipment shelves are getting bigger every year.
I guess I'm thinking that some parts of this are starting to turn around.
I keep thinking about how people used to entertain themselves too. So many people used to teach themselves how to play instruments and in turn teach others. How many do know now aged say; 20 or 30 that just sit down and play music for the fun of it?
I'm rambling I know!!


You are so right... about losing skills in all areas. Think of the effort, planning, and cost of having a barn dance today: 1) build barn, 2) hire a band 3) get a caterer, etc... just kidding. But I agree that we can't even entertain ourselves. (Note to self: get kids in music lessons).

I still have a secret milking plan that Mike is only vaguely aware of. But it will take some time to get in place. First, I need a heifer (our first three calves born on the farm are males- DARN!). I'm going to turn that heifer into a pet and then milk it in a few years time... I'll keep the calf on it- so that I have a "back up plan" for when I'm travelling and my stubborn husband won't milk. Also, our local grocery store in Clinton started selling organic milk. It is $11 per gallon!!! Maybe that will motivate Mike to milk ($11/ gallon X 5 gallons per week X 52 weeks per year == $2,860 in milk alone!)

Could a son who's suddenly attracted to a cow & her new calf be considered a "Born Again Dairyman"??
- And a Child shall lead them -


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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on December 4, 2010 10:17 AM.

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